5. Poison Ivy – Batman #181 (June 1966)
Pamela Isley grows up wealthy in Seattle, but with emotionally distant parents. She studies advanced botanical biochemistry at a university with Alec Holland (aka Swamp Thing) under Dr. Jason Woodrue.
Isley is easily seduced by her professor and he injects her with poisons and toxins in an experiment. This is the cause of her transformation. The experiment nearly kills her twice, and succeeds in driving her insane. Later Woodrue flees from the authorities, leaving Isley in the hospital for six months. When her boyfriend has a car accident after mysteriously suffering from a massive fungal overgrowth, Isley drops out of school and leaves Seattle, eventually settling in Gotham City.
Over the years, she develops plant-like superpowers, the most noticeable being a lethal toxin in her lips, as she is able to literally kill with a kiss. In subsequent issues, she states that she only started a life of crime to attain sufficient funds to find a location to be alone with her plants, undisturbed by humanity. A few years later, she attempts to leave Gotham forever, escaping Arkham to settle on a desert island in the Caribbean. She transforms the barren wasteland into a second Eden, and is, for the first time in her life, happy. It is soon firebombed, however, when an American-owned corporation tests their weapons systems out on what they think is an abandoned island. Ivy returns to Gotham with a vengeance, punishing those responsible. After being willingly apprehended by Batman, she resolves that she can never leave Gotham, at least not until the world was safe for plants. From then on, she dedicates herself to the impossible mission of “purifying” Gotham.
At times, Ivy demonstrates positive, even maternal traits. During No Man’s Land, when Gotham City is destroyed by an earthquake, she holds dominion over Robinson Park, turning it into a tropical paradise. Several children who are orphaned during the quake come to live with her, as she sympathizes with them. That winter, Clayface pays Ivy a visit, hoping to form a bargain with her. This would entail her growing fruits and vegetables, having the orphans harvest them, and him selling the produce to the highest bidder. She wants nothing to do with the plan, and she attempts to kill him with a kiss. Clayface overpowers her however, and imprisons Ivy and the orphans for six months in a chamber under the park’s lake. He feeds her salt and keeps her from the sun and weaken her. Eventually, Batman comes and discovers the imprisoned orphans and Ivy. The two agree to work together to take Clayface down. Batman battles him and instructs Robin to blow up the lake bed above, allowing the rushing water to break apart the mud, effectively freeing Ivy.
Batman, originally intending to take the orphans away from Ivy, recognizes that staying with her is what is best for them, and they remain in her care until the city is restored. Also, as part of a bargain to keep her freedom, Batman arranges it so that Ivy provides fresh produce to the starving hordes of earthquake survivors.
Soon after, Ivy finds Harley Quinn among the debris of the earthquake, and nurses her back to health. The two have been friends and partners-in-crime ever since.
A one point during the Hush storyline, Ivy is manipulated by the Riddler and Hush. Her task is to hypnotize both Superman and Catwoman, however she abandons Catwoman to be murdered by Killer Croc. Batman is able to keep Superman busy long enough for the Man of Steel to break out of her spell. Soon afterwards, the Riddler, who is being hunted by Hush, turns to Ivy for protection. Ivy, who is angered by the earlier manipulation, pummels the Riddler, temporarily breaking his spirit.
Now her powers have increased, said to be on a par with those of Swamp Thing. She has resumed her crusade against the corporate enemies of the environment with a new fanaticism, regarding Batman no longer as a main opponent, but as a ‘hindrance’.
A one point Batman discovers that Ivy has been feeding people to a giant plant which would digest the victims slowly and painfully. She refers to these murders as a “guilty pleasure”. In an unprecedented event, her victims merge with the plant, creating a botanical monster called Harvest.
A major player in the Animated Series, and one of the lead villains in
the abortion Batman and Robin, and Ivy has become Batman’s #1 female villain since Catwoman crossed sides. It is a shame that movie was so bad because Uma should have been so good.
Ivy is one of the most unstable and dangerous personalities in all of Gotham.
4. Scarecrow – World’s Finest Comics #3 (Fall 1941)
GOLDEN AGE: In World’s Finest #3, during the Golden Age of Comic Books, the Scarecrow is first introduced as Jonathan Crane, a professor of psychology. He turns to crime after he is fired. The only thing revealed about his early life is that, as a child, he had liked to frighten birds. His modus operandi is to use his Scarecrow persona and threaten his victims into doing whatever he wants.
In terms of his costume, he merely wears a ragged black hat, trench coat and mask, and wields a tommy gun. His first crime involved The Scarecrow murdering a businessman and becoming a media sensation. Crane is sent to Gotham State Penitentiary in 1941. In 1943, (Detective Comics #73) he escapes from jail and forms a gang to do his bidding. This version of the Scarecrow was much like other gimmick villains as he based a lot of crimes around nursery rhymes. This is the last appearance of the Golden-Age Scarecrow until a flash back written in 1983. This is where we learn that Crane developed a hallucinogenic chemical ‘fear toxin’.
When Batman tries to intervene, he is affected by the toxin and hallucinates that all of his allies have disappeared. Feeling he has no one else to turn to, he confides in an old enemy, Catwoman, to help him stop Crane. It’s the first time that we see Catwoman portrayed as an ally. Exactly what happens to Crane after is not revealed, because of the revelation that the Golden Age universe is actually Earth-Two, in DC’s SUPER CONFUSING ‘Multiverse’.
The Silver Age version, first appearing in 1967 (Batman #189) is a recurring villain in the later Batman stories. Ironically, early on he has a pet magpie named Craw, while the Post-Crisis Crane has a phobia of birds. Entering the Modern-Era (1989-Present) of comics, Crane’s origin story was greatly expanded on as part of the Batman: Year One continuity. He becomes obsessed with fear and revenge from being bullied throughout his childhood for his appearance and resemblance to Ichabod Crane from Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
At the age of 18, we see Crane with a gun in his high school parking lot during the senior prom. Dressed in the ghoulish scarecrow costume that would later become his trademark, Crane causes the bully who tormented him for years, Bo Griggs, and his girlfriend, Sherry Squires (who had rejected Crane), to have an automobile accident. The accident paralyzes Griggs and kills Squires. Crane discovers a savage delight in literally frightening people to death.
He grows up to become a professor of psychology at Gotham University, specializing in the psychology of fear. As in the original version, he loses his job after he fires a gun at his students to prove a point, however in this version he injures a student. After his dismissal, he kills those who fired him and enters a life of crime. Following this, he transfers to Arkham Asylum and becomes a psychiatrist, where he performs cruel, fear-induced experiments on his patients.
Batman/Scarecrow: Year One, expands upon the earlier origin story. The novel explains that Jonathan Crane is born out-of-wedlock and also suffers severe abuse from his fanatically religious great-grandmother. His father takes off before he is even born, and his mother does not show any affection towards her son. He develops a taste for fear and an affinity for crows when his grandmother locks him in a dilapidated church full of birds. The story also shows Crane murdering his grandmother.
In the Knightfall storyline, Scarecrow is one of the prisoners that escaped from Arkham after Bane blows it up. He decides to become partners with The Joker in terrorizing the mayor. At their hideout, the Scarecrow attempts to poison Joker with his fear toxin, only to find that it has no effect on the clown, who in turn beats Scarecrow with a chair. He is then sent back to Arkham.
Recently, the Scarecrow has decided to stop using his typical fear gas, as he feared that other Arkham inmates are right that he is nothing without them. Instead relying on his training as a psychologist, he drives two inmates to suicide using only his words, also apparently terrifying the rest of Arkham’s inmates. After manipulating the guards to freeing him, Crane embarks upon a string of murders, terrifying Gotham without using his trademark gimmicks.
Scarecrow has blossomed in other forms of media. The Animated Series featured him regularly, as well as appearances in all of the Nolan Bat-movies, a major villain in Batman Begins. He also appears in the Lego Batman game and played a prominent role in the Arkham Asylum games.
Scarecrow optimizes what a true Gotham villain should be. He works based on fear, like Batman. He is competitive enough with the other Rouges to not be forced out of Gotham, and he is a cold-blooded murderer.
3. Ra’s Al Ghul – Batman #232 (June 1971)
Ra’s Al Ghul is easily the most mysterious and cunning of all Batman’s foes. He does not associate with the criminally insane group of the rogues gallery, and to the best of my knowledge is one of the only members on this list to have never been housed at Arkham.
It is not known exactly when he was born, but he claims to have been alive for over 600 years. Ra’s heads a worldwide criminal organization – The League of Assassins. Their mission is ‘to purify a polluted planet, and restore nature to the dominion abridged by the human race, ultimately creating a better world’. A world where conveniently he would rule.
He will use whatever means and force necessary to achieve his twisted vision of a new Utopian society. Ra’s madness originates in the unique power source which maintains his body’s appearance – The Lazarus Pit. It is a substance of unknown elements which replenishes the body, like a fountain of youth. The side effects however are spells of sheer madness. Being addicted to this substance for so long has dried any trace of morals and values for Ra’s Al Ghul.
He views himself as above any preset laws which are governed by mankind. His interest in Batman arose when he felt the Lazarus Pits effect was dwindling. Ra’s feels he needs a successor. Since his only offspring is his daughter Talia, he has to choose a male to marry her that is worthy of becoming ruler of his vast empire. Ra’s proves his resourcefulness to Batman by meeting ‘the Detective’ as he calls him, in his own Batcave confirming that he knows his secret. Upon implementing many tests to prove whether Batman was worthy of becoming his successor, Ra’s knew immediately he had found the one. Batman however has refused numerous times, and thus Ra’s believes that since he will not be with him, they must be against each other, as enemies.
He is highly sophisticated and can be quite hypnotic. In the graphic novel Son of the Demon, Ra’s enlists Batman’s aid in defeating a rogue assassin and warlord, Qayin, who has murdered Ra’s’ wife Melisande. During this storyline, Batman marries Talia and she becomes pregnant. Batman is nearly killed protecting Talia from the assassin’s agents. In the end, Talia ends her relationship with Batman, unwilling to put him in danger. She claims to have miscarried and the marriage is dissolved. The child (Damian Wayne) however, is born and shows up years later to take over the mantle of Robin.
Ras played a prominent role in Batman Begins, but prior to the Animated Series you really had to be a fan of the comics to know his name. He views the ‘Detective’ as the only man who is worthy to be his heir, but years of the Lazarus Pit rotting his mind have driven him so insane that he will not accept Batman’s refusal.
He is unique as he couldn’t care less about money, and majority of his attempts to kill Batman are actually just tests he knows Batman will survive. He really does think he can make the world better and he doesn’t care how many people he has to kill to get there.
2. Harvey Dent/Two-Face – Detective Comics #66 (August 1942)
At 26, Harvey Dent was the youngest district attorney ever to serve Gotham City, and came to power about six months prior to Batman’s war on crime beginning. It was a short-lived career as Dent’s campaign on crime ended tragically during the prosecution of crime boss Sal Maroni. At the trial, Maroni throws sulfuric acid in Harvey’s face, horribly scarring his left hand and the left half of his face. Driven insane by his own hideous reflection, Harvey scars one side of his two-headed coin and lets flips of the coin decide whether he acts for good or evil in any situation.
In the wake of Frank Miller’s 1987 revision of Batman’s origin (Batman: Year One), Two-Face’s history was retold to match. This origin, (Batman Annual #14), served to emphasize Dent’s status as a tragic character, with a back story that included an abusive, alcoholic father, and early struggles with bipolar disorder and paranoia. It was also established, in Batman: Year One, that pre-accident Harvey was a major heroic figure working as one of Batman’s earliest allies. Harvey’s clear ties to both Batman and Commissioner Gordon, make him an unsettling foe for both men.
Two-Face gets his trademark coin from his abusive father, who would employ the coin in a perverse nightly “game” that would always end with Harvey being beaten. This would instill in Harvey his lifelong struggle with free will and his eventual inability to make choices on his own.
In The Long Halloween, after the Maroni trial, Harvey escapes from the hospital and hides out in the sewers for weeks, finally resurfacing for the first time as Two-Face. He plans to take revenge on the mob, killing Vernon Fields (the corrupt ADA that gave Maroni the acid) and Carmine Falcone. At this point Maroni has already been assassinated by Falcone’s son Alberto.
Now while he is one of the most popular villains today, Two-Face only made three appearances in the 1940s, and appeared just twice more in the 1950s. By this time, he was dropped in favor of more “kid friendly” villains. Then in 1971, writer Dennis O’Neil (the writer who saved the Batman books) brought Two-Face back, and it was then that he became one of Batman’s archenemies.
Two-Face is revealed to have murdered the father of the 2nd Robin Jason Todd (now the Red Hood), who had been one of his henchmen. Todd later has Two-Face at his mercy and chooses not to kill him, embracing Batman’s ideal of justice, and in essence doing to Jason Todd what Joe Chill did to Bruce Wayne.
In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, writer Grant Morrison focuses Harvey’s dependence on his coin. The doctors in the asylum attempt to wean him off it by taking away the coin and replacing it with a die and eventually a tarot deck, effectively giving him 78 options. The treatment fails however, with so many options Harvey can’t even make simple decisions. At the end of the graphic novel, Batman gives Harvey his coin back, telling him to use it to decide whether to kill him. He tells Batman that the coin landed scar face down, and Batman leaves safely, but the next scene shows the scar face up, meaning that he inexplicably chose to let Batman live. In the hardcover edition, Morrison said this was because it was April Fool’s Day.
In another significant battle between Two-Face and Harvey Dent we see Dent actually take over control for an extended period during the One Year Later storyline. We find out that in Batman’s year-long absence from Gotham, he left the city in the hands of a rehabilitated and healed Harvey Dent. Harvey patrols the city for a year keeping it safe until Batman’s return. Upon the return of the Caped Crusader Dent feels unappreciated and rescars his own face, adopting the Two-Face persona once again.
Two-Face also has a bitter rivalry with The Joker, as Joker broke into his house during The Long Halloween and beat him up prior to the scarring that made him who his is now. This is also fed in The Dark Knight, where the Joker is responsible for killing Harvey’s girlfriend and scarring his face.
Through the years we’ve seen Billy Dee Williams play Harvey Dent in Batman, and Tommy Lee Jones butchered the role of a transformed Two-Face in Batman Forever. Dent however was just made by Arron Eckhart in The Dark Knight. He is also one of the best villains on the Animated Series, where he was voiced by Bull (Richard Moll) from Night Court.
Harvey is rare in the importance to Gotham he held prior to becoming Two-Face, and what that’s meant to the significance of his crimes since. He has become one of Batman’s greatest foes, and an actual foil of himself. So many times Two-Face has almost killed Batman only to have Harvey intervene.
He is so interesting because he really represents 3 characters at once. The first, and most prominent would be Two-Face, the 2nd being Harvey, and the 3rd? The coin. Over the years Harvey’s coin has become as much of a character as the Batcave or Gotham City itself.